Kennel ‘Report Cards’ Help Shelter Dogs Graduate to New Homes

This is a guest post from Kristen Auerbach, Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer at Austin Animal Center.

On average, we have 250 medium and large dogs available for adoption everyday at Austin Animal Center in Austin, Texas. While this makes for a great selection of potential pooches for our adopters to choose from, it can also be overwhelming for visitors as they wander through what can feel like a vast sea of dogs.

About a year ago, we realized that this was keeping our dogs from going home.

Potential adopters were fending for themselves. They walked through the kennel without a volunteer or staff member to guide them. Their information came from basic kennel cards containing the pet’s age range, intake type, species and color. We didn’t have the staff or volunteers to type out individualized notes about each dog or escort visitors through the kennels.

This meant that visitors didn’t have the information they needed to choose their next family member, so they left without adopting.

As you can see from the photo above, there is nothing on Daisy’s kennel card to make her stand out to potential adopters.

Our committed group of volunteer dog enrichment specialists were getting to know the dogs and had lots to say, but we didn’t have a good way for them to convey this information to potential adopters. We tried to let volunteers write on the kennel cards, but that resulted in handwritten notes, some of which actually hurt the dogs’ chances of going home.

For every “Roxy loves to play fetch!” there was a note that said, “Max pulls too hard and doesn’t listen to me.” Even though we provided training and guidelines, with hundreds of volunteers, handwritten notes were not serving the purpose of providing useful information for adopters. Our kennel cards still weren’t giving adopters a sense of who the dogs were.

In our ongoing quest to show that all dogs are individuals, we decided to try something totally different. We knew we needed something simple. Borrowing from an idea by our largest rescue partner, Austin Pets Alive!, we created our ‘report card’ for dogs. These cards give volunteers and staff an easy way to tell us some of the great things about the dogs they interact with daily.

Here’s how it works:

Each kennel gets a blank card as soon as a dog comes in. Ours are half-sheet sized laminated cards that can be re-used. At the top, a staff member or volunteer writes the dog’s name. At any time, any staff member or volunteer can choose to be a ‘champion’ for a dog they especially like or connect with. As a champion, they put their name on the card to and agree to answer questions for potential adopters and to work with the dog to complete her report card. Volunteers work with many dogs during their shifts, but they often choose one or two of their favorites to ‘champion.’

During the dog’s stay, we work on ‘academics,’ using positive reinforcement and treats to teach them basic skills like sit, stay, come and down. Once a dog learns a skill, the person who taught them circles that skill on the report card.

The ‘recess’ section involves the dog doing fun activities, many of which involve leaving the shelter. Our volunteers take shelter dogs on field trips, so we can learn if our dogs enjoy swimming, car rides and even practicing on an agility course. This section also lets visitors know if the dog they’re interested in likes to participate in doggie playgroups, which we hold here daily. Adopters love the recess portion of the report card because it helps them imagine how the dogs are outside of a kennel environment.

The third and final section is ‘qualities,’ where volunteers and staff circle the words that best describe the dog. Because dogs may act outgoing and goofy with one volunteer but shy and calm with another, sometimes dogs have lots of qualities circled. That’s okay! We explain to potential adopters that all dogs are individuals, and just like people, they may be cuddly in the morning and adventurous in the afternoon.

The cards are designed to give volunteers ideas for fun things to do with the dogs and each fun activity means a volunteer can circle another ‘recess’ item. We used to see lots of our volunteers taking dogs to the play yard and just sitting on a bench while the dog wandered around. This wasn’t very exciting for the dogs or people. Now we see volunteers taking the dogs out and doing puzzle toy activities, practicing obedience skills and even playing with the dogs on our agility equipment. And there’s a real sense of satisfaction in taking a dog back to its kennel and getting to circle another activity, skill or game.


Deaf dog Colby’s report card gets him tons of attention and the flyer made by his champion helps explain why Colby doesn’t respond to voice cues. Source: Austin Animal Center

Since we’ve implemented report cards, we’ve seen an increase in adoptions and our visitors have so much more fun walking through the kennels. People love them! It’s now a common occurrence to see families walking through and reading the report cards out loud, saying things like, “Oh Samson likes to swim! I always wanted a dog who likes water.” or “Look mom, Sasha knows how to shake!” Most importantly, the report cards help draw lifesaving attention to dogs who might otherwise be overlooked.

Here’s what volunteer Rachel had to say about the cards:

“As a volunteer it is really helpful to have those on the kennel so I know how to interact with the dog and can use that when talking to adopters about a dog I haven’t met before. Like, ‘Oh, a volunteer said he knows sit. He may not be sitting now because he’s so excited to be out with new people!’ And it’s helpful to know if they like fetch!”

Most of our visitors only see the front of the cards, but when you flip them over, we’ve included lots of important information, intended to help volunteers and staff best serve each dog.

The bottom section of the card back tells volunteers and staff what equipment that dog should be handled with. Some of our dogs just get walked in martingale collars while others are outfitted with Gentle Leaders or Easy Walk harnesses.
Want to use the card yourself? Here’s a printable version.

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4 Really Simple Ways to Get Dogs to Fly Out of Shelters and Into Homes

It can be a challenge for some shelter dogs to find homes, regardless of breed. But for ones labeled “pit bull” dogs, the challenge is even greater. Once a person gets to know a dog as an individual, they quickly see that the stigma attached to these dogs is completely false. It’s really important that shelters set their dogs up for success so that a dog’s individual personality really shines. Continue reading

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You Don’t Want to Spend Thanksgiving Alone, So Why Should a Shelter Dog?

A few weeks ago, we gave you some ideas on adoption promotions for Halloween. Now, we’re giving you an idea that your shelter can use for Thanksgiving, the winter holidays – or any holiday, really.

Last year, Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) Director Christie Chipps Peters was thinking about how sad it was that the animals in her care would be spending Thanksgiving alone and not with a family. She thought, “wouldn’t it be great if they could all get invited for dinner?” Then, she realized she had the power to make that happen.

She and the shelter staff launched a promotion asking members of their community to invite a shelter dog to Thanksgiving dinner.

The idea behind this isn’t totally unheard of. It’s something Kristen Auerbach, the Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer of Austin Animal Center talked about in her last guest blog. These “foster outings” help offset the negative effects some dogs can experience in a shelter. Kristen said:

“[There’s] a common challenge animal shelters face – Dogs who come into the system as great pets, get passed over for no real reason, and eventually develop behavioral issues due to the stress of the shelter environment.”

There’s also another benefit – a person might bond with the dog they foster for a few hours or a few days. That bond might result in an adoption.


AFF alumnus Berry with his new family.

That’s what happened to 20 of the 32 Richmond Animal Care and Control dogs who had Thanksgiving dinner at someone’s home. Those dogs were adopted by either the family who fostered them, or by one of their friends or family.

Even if that the promotion didn’t result in so many dogs finding homes, it had a positive impact on the dogs and on the shelter’s place in the community. Christie told us that there were long lines to foster these dogs – if you think about it, 32 people walking into a shelter practically at once to foster dogs is truly incredible.


Recently adopted AFF alumna Guava

According to Christie, these types of programs are vital to building a relationship with the community:

“I think anytime you can create a program to personalize a connection with a shelter animal you should jump on it.  It says to the community that we love our animals and we care about their happiness.”

Of course, there is a bit of work to programs like this. They’re run like any foster program. People fill out a foster survey in person and conduct a meet and greet with their family dogs (if they have them). RACC provided food and a crate for the dog – but they also armed each family with tips and instructions on how to give each individual dog the best and safest Thanksgiving holiday.

If you’re a shelter worker and you want to try a promotion like this, don’t worry about it being difficult to pull off. Christie did most of her outreach on RACC’s Facebook page. She created some cute graphics, nothing complicated, and the idea spread from there.

If you’re a pet lover and would love to invite a dog (or a cat) over for Thanksgiving dinner, then contact your local shelter and tell them about this idea. You’ll not only be helping the dog you invite into your home, you’ll be helping the shelter come up with new ideas to help their dogs find homes – even if it’s only for a weekend.

Feature image via Richmond Animal Care and Control/Facebook

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A Simple Shift in Language Can Change the Way People Feel About Adopting from Your Shelter

You’ve heard us say “all dogs are individuals,” but we also believe that all adopters are individuals. We don’t rely on blanket policies or generalizations for our dogs or our adopters. If we did that, we’d be missing out on some really great potential adopters. Continue reading

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Your Adoption Policies May Be Setting Your Dogs Up To Fail

You think your shelter is doing everything right. You’ve given all of your dogs cute names. You have an excellent social media presence. You’re doing great community outreach, but something weird is happening – your dogs aren’t flying out of their kennels to happy homes like they should be. Is it possible your adoption policies are turning adopters away? Continue reading

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We Just Made a Big Decision about Putting Our Dogs on Petfinder

If you’ve spent any time on our site or hung out with us on social media, you know that we stress the individuality of dogs. You also know that it’s impossible to identify a dog’s breed based on visual identification. That’s why we steer clear of labeling the dogs who come into our shelter. We don’t know the pedigree of the overwhelming majority of them. There’s no way we can honestly select a breed label. Continue reading

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You Might Be Overlooking the Easiest Way to Help Your Shelter’s Long Term Stay Dogs

This is a guest post from Kristen Auerbach, Deputy Chief Animal Services Officer at Austin Animal Center.

On any given day at Austin Animal Center, there are 300 or more dogs waiting for homes. On average, it takes between two weeks to a month for them to find homes. But some of them, through no fault of their own, are passed over time and time again. These dogs wait patiently, sometimes for months, to find their families. We call them ‘hidden gems’ and they’re most often perfectly adoptable, medium and large, adult dogs who fail to catch the eye of potential adopters. Continue reading

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These Shelters Are Changing the Game to Get Their Dogs Adopted This Halloween

Promotions always bring people to a shelter and increase adoption rates – but they have to be the right promotion. They need to have a bit of flare. It’s not always easy to come up with creative ideas, but looking to the holidays can help you generate lots of ideas for shelter promotions. Halloween is one of the best holidays for doing just that.

Below are five of our favorite Halloween promotion ideas – and what’s really great about them is that most of them cost little to no money on your part. Continue reading

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Montreal SPCA Discusses the City’s New BSL and What It Means For Hundreds of Families

It’s been four days since the Montreal city council passed their ban on “pit bull type” dogs. Families in Montreal are scared, confused, and devastated. The rest of us are heartbroken and outraged.

But the people at the Montreal SPCA are passionately fighting their city officials. They’re fighting with facts, which show that breed specific legislation doesn’t reduce dog bites, and they’re offering up alternative approaches that actually work. Continue reading

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An Accidental Advocate

Guest post written by Stephanie Filer, Manager of Special Gifts & Partnerships, Animal Rescue League of Iowa.

The other day I received a call from a city councilperson in Randall, IA who needed our help. They were reviewing their city ordinances and she knew about our work to help cities strengthen their dog ordinances, so she reached out. Specifically, she wanted to remove some 10+ breeds from their banned list and instead, strengthen the enforcement for dogs of all breeds. Continue reading

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